Group says county, city of McCleary have been lax water monitors

By Ann Hartman

and Marina Kuran

In a pretty, peaceful little slice of unincorporated Grays Harbor County just outside McCleary’s western border, new homes are popping up. Still unofficially known as Garden City, this forested area is now home to Hicklin Estates and adjacent developments that total 26 plats. The new Copper Point subdivision near Stillson Road will hold 12 new homes soon.

A total of 270 unincorporated acres north and west of Elma Hicklin Road near Wildcat Road were put on the market in recent months by Herbrand Timber Company of Puyallup. As of this April, 115 acres already have been snapped up.

You’d think with all this development and potential development that Grays Harbor County and the city of McCleary would be watching closely to ensure that the city’s sole source of water — the Wildcat aquifer — and its critical recharge areas are protected from contamination and overuse. And in fact, a detailed agreement to do just that was signed by both parties in 2009. Trouble is, neither the city nor the county are abiding by the agreement. At a recent rezone hearing this April, members of the county’s Planning Commission seemed to know nothing about it.

“On the whole, the ongoing working agreement with Grays Harbor County and the city is not something that’s occurring today,” Jane Hewitt told the wide-eyed members of the Planning Commission at the hearing. Hewitt is the county’s principal planner.

The Interlocal Agreement Between Grays Harbor County and the City of McCleary to Protect and Manage the Wildcat Creek Aquifer by Coordinating Land Use Development and Establishing the Wildcat Creek Aquifer Joint Management Program was signed after the city implemented a building moratorium due to a water shortage and contamination found right before a large subdivision was approved to sit on top of the aquifer’s largest recharge area. The moratorium was lifted only after the city and county agreed to do a better job managing the health of the aquifer.

So how are city and county doing in this regard?

Among many other things, the Interlocal Agreement says that the county and city will:

• Monitor the level of Wildcat Creek and record the monitoring results.

• Prepare an annual aquifer work plan approved by the County Board of Commissioners and the McCleary City Council each year with updates posted on the county website.

• Examine their zoning ordinances to make sure the ordinances don’t allow uses too risky to be located on top of the aquifer.

• Educate new homeowners about their responsibilities regarding living above the aquifer.

• Identify the city’s “urban services area” to determine what areas the city might annex in the future.

While the city and county have been implementing some minor administrative tasks associated with the Interlocal Agreement, its most important responsibilities have largely been ignored for the past 10 years. The people paid by our tax dollars and charged with guarding our water supply — the McCleary City Council, the Grays Harbor Board of Commissioners and members of the Planning Commission (which recommends to the county commissioners what rezones and developments to approve) do not have their eye on this very important ball.

The Concerned About Water Garden City group — currently about a dozen concerned residents strong — is not anti-development. We support responsible development, and we believe that any rezone or development application granted before the Interlocal Agreement is implemented in full is anything but responsible.

Interested in water quality and quantity in the McCleary area? Send an email to

concernedaboutwater322

@gmail.com.

Ann Hartman and Marina Kuran are East County residents concerned about water quality and quantity in the area.